Tall, thin, and irregular, Benin juts deep into the African continent, resembling a smoked turkey leg (which just happens to be my favorite fair food here in Oklahoma). Thanks to this unusual geography there is a notable difference between the food in the semi-arid north and the tropical south.
Corn is the starch of choice in the more fertile south, whereas yams are more popular in the dry north. In both cases, the starch is cooked down into a mush-like consistency and eaten with the fingers. This traditional preparation is called fufu. The entire country also eats white rice cooked in rich, fatty coconut milk, when affordable. This tradition spread to the Caribbean where it remains popular.
Peanuts are also traditional and are used many ways in Benin, the most prevalent of which is called kuli kuli. Kuli kuli are ground peanuts bound together to create balls which are then deep-fried. This rich treat is essentially deep-fried peanut butter. Mmm, sounds heart-stoppingly good.
Spicy peanut sauce is the ketchup of Benin. This simple condiment is quickly whipped up from local ingredients and poured over fufu, rice, and meats. The sauce is kicked up with some chili pepper (or cayenne), onion, and bouillon.
The ocean currents near Benin can be wild and erratic, making fishing dangerous. Still, seafood is popular amongst the southerners. Most fishing is done in lagoons by small boat. Shrimp and crab are the two most common catches. The more northern areas must rely on other sources of protein, often a special cheese called wagassi (wangash) or goat, chicken, beef, and bush meat (local game).
A celebration stew (served on holidays such as independence day or the national holiday, Vodoo) called ago glan is made from shellfish, tomatoes, onions, and hot sauce.
Many dishes in Benin are fried in peanut or palm oil, spicy chili peppers, tomatoes, and onion. Stewing, smoking and grilling are also common meat preparations, although meat is served only occasionally in this poor nation.
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